Blue Moon is the latest best-selling thriller in the Jack Reacher series by author Lee Child. If you’ve somehow missed the previous 23 Reacher books in a series that began with 1997’s The Killing Floor, you may have seen the movies (2012’s Jack Reacher and 2016’s Jack Reacher: Never Go Back). If not, you’re missing a fascinating creation, a truly original character.
A rangy, intimidating 6’5” former military policeman, Reacher is hypercompetent with his fists and a first-class marksman. He’s a math whiz and quick to make deductions. He is also deeply odd: He goes through life carrying literally no baggage — no luggage besides a toothbrush. He wears no watch, but keeps a reliable “clock in his head.”
He doesn’t like staying anywhere long, drifting from town to town, and can make amusing if not convincing rationalizations for not doing laundry, instead buying cheap new clothes again and again and binning the “old” ones. His past is mysterious but not particularly dark. He is stoic and fearless and runs toward danger, not away from it. And he really likes his coffee.
Child must have figured he was on to something, because since that first effort he’s been putting out a book a year, reliably pleasing an increasing number of fans. Child was born in England and had a long television career there before moving to the United States, but his Americanisms ring mostly true, and he manages to appeal both to millions of readers and the English literary set, such as author Phillip Pullman and the London Review of Books. Perhaps it’s because beyond the thriller trappings, Reacher is an old-fashioned archetype.
In a 2012 interview Child described his character as “the noble loner, the knight errant, the mysterious stranger, who has shown up in stories forever… He is a truly universal character… I’m writing the modern iteration of a character who has existed for thousands of years.” Reacher is old-fashioned. No shades of gray here, no sense of moral corruption you’d find in a “sophisticated” John le Carre novel; Reacher is never tempted to go dark.
The Reacher series has other distinguishing wrinkles: The books often aren’t fast-paced in the way genre blurbs seem to demand, but deliberate and detail-oriented, as readers survey the scene along with Reacher. There is often a strong element of mystery, and half the pleasure is watching Reacher making deductions, figuring things out. I prefer Child’s heartland thrillers (e.g., Worth Dying For) over his international intrigues, and find his third-person P.O.V. more effective than his occasional first-person tales — Reacher reveals his character through action, anyway.
Child says his secret is to write the fast parts slowly, and the action scenes put in mind the John Wick movies — no quick cuts. The other half of the pleasure is the frisson of expectation when a well-deserved comeuppance to a baddie is in the works, the fights unfolding like a ballet.
We meet Reacher the way we do in many of the books, on a Greyhound bus headed in a general direction but no place in particular. He alights semi-randomly in a strange new town somewhere in the heartland.
In Blue Moon, Reacher gets off to halt the impending mugging of a vulnerable-looking elderly man carrying a big envelope of cash, and lands in the middle of an emerging gang war. Reacher escorts the man back to his home, meets the man’s wife, and learns the story that put them at the mercy of sadistic loan sharks. Reacher is atavistically drawn to even up the score in his laconic way. One of Child’s signature sentences is “Reacher said nothing.”
The Ukrainian gang owns the west side of town, the Albanians the east, scrapping for control of the city’s commerce. Reacher hits it off quickly with his waitress, Abby (for a gangly, menacing loner, Reacher gets a surprising amount of romance). Soon he’s gathered a rag-tag team consisting of Abby and some of her suspiciously resourceful friends, who get a lot of mileage out of assumptions, guesswork, and disparate clues.
The mission expands to taking on the whole rotten edifice. The body count gets ludicrous, as confusion sewn by Reacher & Co. begets violence. Throughout, Reacher remains extraordinarily efficient, just on the human side of Superman.
There is more cold brutality in Blue Moon that his other books and a higher body count, although not all of the carnage can be laid at Reacher’s Size 12 feet. Some online reviews dislike the more savage Reacher. Paradoxically, there are also more lyrical and ruminative passages than usual. The wisdom of age, perhaps?
At one point Reacher thinks, “Not bad for an old guy,” but otherwise Child is subtle in portraying a Reacher older and wiser than in previous books (Child’s novels skip around chronologically). Maybe it’s the way he repeats clichés, or seems to pine for Abby, but the character truly feels older and grizzled, maybe a little less self-sufficient. While staying well within his winning formula, Child also stretches his creation, a little. Reacher even dances, briefly.
So how does Blue Moon rank in the Child oeuvre? Around the middle. (Check out The Federalist’s comprehensive Reacher overview.) The “fake news” subplot feels thin and rushed. Also, Blue Moon skips some of Child’s old tricks that make the other books so satisfying — putting Reacher in a corner and watching him scheme and fight his way out. Here the odds feel too even, Reacher a touch too ruthless. Still, it delivers soul-satisfying revenge in spades.
What’s next for Reacher? Besides Child’s current book-a-year schedule, there is an Amazon Prime series in the works; Reacher is leaving the big screen for now. I thought Tom Cruise did a fine job as Reacher in the two movies, but Child doesn’t agree, and he has a point: Cruise is cute, compact, and no more than 5’8.” Jack Reacher is 6’5”, rangy, and by his own admission, no dreamboat.
The move makes some sense. Most of Child’s tales are set in the heartland, with no international intrigue in expensive foreign locations, and little of the typical whiz-bang action sequences theaters were made for. So the small screen may be a better fit for our big guy.
But until the next on-screen iteration of Reacher lands on a streaming service, it’s worth grabbing paperback of Blue Moon, which should be readily available at an airport or train station during holiday travel. It should satisfy the many Reacher fans out there.